Darya Farivar is a lifelong resident of the 46th Legislative District, which runs from Laurelhurst to Kenmore. Her parents even had their meet-cute at Roosevelt High School after leaving Iran during the 1979 revolution.
Farivar has plans for the 46th and believes that she has the experience and background to deliver on them. She’s currently the public policy director for Disability Rights Washington (DRW), a role that takes her to Olympia frequently to push legislation that meets the needs of disabled people.
Her biography also sets her apart from her competition and previous politicians who held the seat.
“If I’m elected, I’m going to be the youngest person to ever represent the district and the first Middle Eastern woman ever elected to the state legislature,” Farivar said. “I think it’s about time these communities get heard.”
Farivar led in a tight primary election, coming out roughly 3.6 percentage points ahead of her general election challenger, Lelach Rave. She has the backing of the three other women who competed in the primary race, but will she get their supporters?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
RC: Why do you want to represent the 46?
DF: There are a lot of reasons why I want to represent the 46. First and foremost, because it's my home. I've lived there my entire life. It is really personal for me. My family, when they fled Iran because of the revolution, they actually met at Roosevelt High School, which is where I went to high school. They put down roots in Lake City, and we've been in Lake City ever since.
Anyways, living in Lake City, I love the community. It is a strong, tight-knit community, and it's one that's been struggling pretty significantly over the years. A lot of my neighbors have been struggling. I really can't go anywhere without seeing folks who are experiencing homelessness, who are experiencing behavioral health challenges, as well. And it's hard: It's hard to see that everywhere, and it's hard to see the state not doing everything we can do.
And I think that there is so much that we could be doing there, especially as it intersects with behavioral health, housing and homelessness and the criminal legal system, and I have been working with the state legislature on some of these issues. I'm the public policy director at Disability Rights Washington, so I spend my days working on those intersections. And I've also been able to see how some of these programs work and don't work and what's hard and the other big, systemic issues we need to work on there.
I've been part of a team that oversees 12 different behavioral health diversion programs across the state. They're really exciting programs because they're trying to meet people where they're at. They're not waiting for folks to fall through every last crack in the system. They're trying to proactively go out into the community and build trust, which is why they have been successful. And I want to see a lot more of that. I want to see us invest in more programs like [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD)], in particular. And I want to make sure that folks have what they need. At the end of the day, our state safety net shouldn't just be about only intervening when there is absolutely a crisis.
What makes you better for this job than your opponent?
We know that the reality in Washington is that if you experience homelessness, if you experience behavioral health crisis, you're almost guaranteed to come into contact with the criminal legal system in some way, shape or form. And so we have to have that as part of our conversations. And I'm uniquely qualified to have those conversations at the state level. I got hired at Disability Rights Washington specifically to work on a lawsuit about the state's failure to acknowledge that intersection and to take action and make sure that we're not waiting until the last second and not funneling people into the criminal legal system. And we need more of those voices in the state, and I think that I will be able to do that successfully.
The legislature is a complicated, messy thing, and so having someone who can really get there and hit the ground running is going to be important, not just for the big issues that we have to handle that have been in Washington for a long time but whatever else the Supreme Court decides to throw at us as well. And being public policy director, my job relies on me being successful in Olympia. It relies on me being able to manage my entire organization's legislative agenda and legislative strategy. And it really sets me up to have been in a lot of these conversations and a lot of these negotiating rooms, up late at night, defending against amendments and getting to see the 80 percent of the process that happens behind closed doors.
And the other part of my experience, which I think is really important, we need to see more of it in Olympia — I'm a 27 year old, first generation Iranian American woman, and my communities haven't been represented. There are very few young people doing work in Olympia, and there are no Middle Eastern people doing work in Olympia.
What do you identify as the biggest issues facing the 46, and are those distinct in your mind from statewide concerns?
Overwhelmingly, people want to talk to me about what public safety means to them, and I don't think that's different than the rest of the state. That's what's on people's minds. And I've had some really interesting conversations, and there are a lot of folks who have been kind of forced into this extreme thinking that you either have safety or you have compassion. And that's absolutely not true. We need to talk about what's in the middle there between those two extremes. And the reality is that we can have folks feel comfortable in their communities —everybody feel comfortable in their communities — and we can have compassion for people who are struggling and are going to need a little bit more help.
What organizations do you take ideas and inspiration from and what organizations do you count as trusted advisors? Whose voices are you going to take to Olympia?
I'm interested in hearing from people with direct lived experience, whether it's my potential future constituents, whether it's folks who were living for a long time on Lake City Way at 125th [Note: There was an encampment at this location]. Those are the people that I want to be talking to. So who my trusted advisors are going to be are the experts, are the people who are living these problems every single day and want to come forward and talk about what they have experienced and what we need to do from there.
You were talking about how you need to be able to hit the ground running, that 80 percent of what happens is behind closed doors. What is that experience? What's happening behind those closed doors? Tell me a little bit more about how you're watching "the sausage get made" and how that gets you to be a good legislator.
I think that there's a lot of accessibility issues when it comes to trying to participate in the legislature, not just for folks who have disabilities, but for accessibility for everybody.
Just being able to access the process, being able to get across what you need to say in two minutes or less — two minutes, if you're lucky, in Olympia — is a huge, huge barrier to folks.
As part of my job at DRW, I spent countless hours meeting with folks and trying to prepare them for that, not just the two minutes and how do you condense your story down into two minutes, [but] how do you write it in a way that's going to resonate with the elected officials and push them to do what it is that you need them to do for you and for your communities? And also what are the realities of it? Virtual testimony has opened up a lot of opportunity for folks, not just the barrier of getting to and from Olympia, which is enormous, but also the level of intimidation, as well. Sitting in front of a 15-person panel of seemingly powerful people, that is a lot: to go up there, have your story condensed, put on a blazer or whatever it is that you're going to do and then tell what might be the worst experience of your entire life on camera, on [public access television], to then be recorded and talk about later.
There is a lot that needs to be done to improve access to this process, and I'm really interested in getting in there and working on that. And what my role has really been is to try and bridge that gap between what's behind closed doors and what's happening with advocates and coalitions. It's been to not only advocate for these issues that DRW cares about and is advocating for, but to make sure that people are coming with me and doing that work with me.
And how do you see that translating to be a good legislator?
I think our legislators should all be working towards increased access to democracy.
Gov. [Jay] Inslee has said that abortion is safe in Washington, but there are plenty of Republicans in Olympia who would see that change, at least according to the pre-filings. What do you want to see the legislature do to protect that right in Washington, and how do you make it more durable than an election cycle?
We definitely need to build it into our constitution. Short of having those two-thirds votes — which we absolutely need to start working on now if we're going to be able to get there one day — I'm really interested in making sure that there are legal protections for folks who are going to be providing services and seeking services as well. I'm also really interested in this hospital mergers issue. We are seeing a lot of secular and nonsecular institutions merge, and we're losing a lot of services because that. Not just abortion and reproductive care, but also things like death with dignity, as well.
Really interested in solutions like that. Really interested in figuring out what we can do to protect providers. Liability is a big concern and topic of conversation when you talk to hospitals and when you talk with the providers, and I want to make sure that we're setting folks up so that they can continue providing the services that they want to be providing and that they have been providing and do it in a way that we can protect against out-of-state lawsuits as well.
What is your position on the police reforms passed in Olympia?
I'm really proud to be one of the founding board members of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. I'm really proud of the work that we have done in that coalition. Again, we're led by family members who have lost loved ones to police violence, focusing in on people with direct lived experience. That being said, we fought hard against the proposed rollbacks.
Last year, I believe there were 19 bills introduced, and we were able to stop 18 of them, which I'm really proud of, and one that was really harmful got through.
Unfortunately, part of the shortcomings of legal advocacy is that you have to wait for something bad to happen in order to be able to act on that. And so we need to get in there and reverse that legislation ASAP. That legislation reduces the evidentiary standard from probable cause down to reasonable suspicion, which essentially amounts to, "A Black man in a hoodie stole my purse," and now law enforcement have reasonable suspicion to stop Black men wearing a hoodie, and use force, which is really scary. Everybody should be terrified of that.
Especially at a time when I think what law enforcement needs are clearer standards, clearer guidelines, it muddies the water.
I'm really interested in figuring out what can we do to look at the scope of work of law enforcement and how do we build up our behavioral health crisis response system so that we've got people — who have trained, who have gone to school for this — able to provide that crisis response and support individuals. That's what we need to be building up to try and reduce harm and make sure that ultimately the people who are in crisis are getting help at the end of the day and behavioral health professionals and social workers frankly have different tools available to them in their belt.
What's your position on the Blake decision and the recriminalization of possession? That law does expire. So what would you like to see replace it?
The Blake decision is exciting… from where I'm standing, the folks that I have worked with, the people that I have talked to, who are in jails in King County, who are at Western and Eastern State Hospital, a lot of folks are experiencing not just psychiatric disabilities, they're also experiencing substance use. And for so many of those people it's a coping mechanism for not having access to the resources they need to be able to address the mental health concerns and struggles there, and we have to keep that in mind.
I think for a lot of issues — and substance use is just one of them, right — we have been really looking at things in siloes, which has not been helpful to us.
Do you think that possession of drugs in specific should be criminalized or decriminalized?
I want to see us move away from punitive measures. I want to see us understand this as part of a behavioral health crisis. Punishing people, funneling people into the criminal legal system is absolutely not what's going to do it. And so I support how we can do that.
Where do you stand on the current push for equity licenses in the cannabis industry?
Our criminal legal system disproportionately incarcerates Black and Brown people (and this ties directly into the Blake decision, right). It is especially criminalized people of color who have possessed marijuana, and making sure as we're building a brand new bureaucracy, right, keeping equity at the center of it is going to be really, really important. I really want to make sure that we're not creating another system that's going to harm our Black and Brown communities who have been directly impacted by criminalization and have been impacted by bureaucracies overall.
I mean, when we look at our state systems, when we look at what's happening there, they are not built for communities like mine. They were not built for Black and Brown communities. And so we have to acknowledge that and not just acknowledge that, actively combat that. And I think equity licenses are a good way to start doing that.
Homelessness is a growing issue in Washington state. Why are people becoming and staying unhoused here? And what are the most effective policies that the legislature specifically can use to change that?
It's not going to be one thing that's leading people into becoming unhoused. One of the big issues that I do see, though, is that connection with the behavioral health system. So, I understand that national numbers show that about 40 percent of folks who are experiencing homelessness actually have a disability of a lot of different types.
I've worked with folks with developmental disabilities who've experienced homelessness, traumatic brain injuries and also psychiatric disabilities. So when I look at our folks who are Trueblood class members — the folks who are going into this cycle of incarceration, institutionalization and always undoubtedly going back into homelessness — I see behavioral health as one of the key things that we can do. And I want to build up again our diversion systems, and I want to try and build back trust. I don't think that can be said enough. I have talked to folks who have accessed programs like [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] successfully, but they took a long time to warm up to it, and that's because trust has been broken.
Folks have been promised things. People have been told that they're going to get support and housing and whatever it is that they need and something happens. There's a catch at the last second. Or, I've also had stories of folks talking about how they accepted services and help from someone. They got into housing, something happened, a rule was broken that they weren't aware of or had no control of, and they were evicted. And in this situation, they were evicted while they weren't there and so all of their belongings were thrown out, and they were back living outside without any of their tools for actual survival. And that is a pretty serious violation of trust. It doesn't encourage folks to try and access programs and services and get help.
Our behavioral health system seems to be built around our involuntary treatment system. And involuntary treatment is an important tool and important resource that, when folks reach that high level of crisis, needs to be available. And it shouldn't be the cornerstone of our system. We should be focused on trying to intervene earlier, providing help as soon as help is needed.
Washington is infamous for its upside down tax code. What is your opinion on the tax code? And, if not glowing, how would you see it changed?
Yeah, definitely not glowing. It is very much upside down. Last I checked, we had the most regressive taxes in the country, which we should be deeply, deeply ashamed of, especially with the amount of wealth that's here. I strongly support an income tax, and that's going to be a constitutional issue. And so, until we can get an income tax in place, we have to tackle different options. We have to look at wealth taxes, we have to look at the real estate excise tax.
How do we make sure that folks are paying their fair share at the end of the day? Because, I mean, that's all we're asking for, right? If you have more money, then you need to be paying a little bit more to sustain these programs. What the regressive tax structure means is that people with the least are paying the most. People who are relying on social services are paying to upkeep our social services programs. And that just doesn't make any sense. It shouldn't make any sense, right?
What is your favorite place in your district?
So, it all revolves around food for me.
I mean, I get that.
I'm a huge fan of Hellbent Brewery in Lake City. I absolutely love it. It's super close to my house. It's awesome atmosphere, amazing staff, dogs. I love them. And then, depending on the day, I'm a big fan of Elliott Bay [Public House & Brewery]. I really love that Heaven Sent Fried Chicken is right there, also.
That's a frequent, right, on those busy days. Where else? I also just love hanging out in Magnuson. It's beautiful. Especially on a summer day. It seems like we've got an 80-degree weekend coming up, right? We're being able to access the water and just be in the park. It's so nice. Especially in the middle of the campaign trail when it's absolute chaos all the time. It's nice to go and experience some quiet at Magnuson.
Read more of the Oct. 12-18, 2022 issue.